Three Reasons Why The Zombie Genre Is So Appealing

Well, continuing with the horror genre theme for this month’s articles, I thought that I’d talk briefly about the zombie genre. In particular, why it is such an appealing genre to both the audience and to authors/film-makers/game developers etc… So, here are three of the many reasons why the zombie genre is so awesome:

1) A blank slate: One of the awesome things about zombies is that they can symbolise so many different things and, as such, are a surprisingly versatile type of horror monster.

Whether it is the fear of disease, the fear of death, the fear of mindless conformity, the fear of societal collapse, the fear of official incompetence in the face of danger, the claustrophobic dread of being trapped by hordes of zombies etc… Zombies can symbolise a whole host of different fears in a way that no other type of horror monster can.

So, zombies are something of a blank slate for horror stories. Although the genre has it’s own set of traditions and conventions (eg: fast and slow zombies, infectious zombie bites, “Destroy the brain!” etc…), both readers and writers of zombie stories can expect the unexpected when it comes to what the zombies actually mean.

2) Milder horror: Despite everything that I’ve said about how zombies can symbolise many different fears, they are one of the least frightening types of horror monster out there. After all, everyone knows what a zombie looks like, what a zombie apocalypse looks like and how the characters can fight or hide from the zombies.

In fact, the focus on both fighting back against zombies and/or finding convenient places to hide from them also helps to lessen the fear of this type of horror. After all, the characters can usually protect themselves against the horrifying threat they they face. So, the zombie genre tends to overlap with the thriller genre slightly and becomes more of a genre about courage, resourcefulness, strength etc… than about the kind of vulnerability that makes horror stories genuinely terrifying.

But, why would anyone want a milder form of horror fiction/movies/games? Well, simply put, sometimes people want to relax, to feel brave rather than frightened, to enjoy something in the horror genre without feeling nervous for hours afterwards etc…

3) Familiarity, creativity and simplicity: One of the strengths of the zombie genre is it’s relative simplicity. After all, most zombie stories involve a group of characters surviving a sudden and unexpected zombie apocalypse. It can be a giant world-ending one or a small-scale one. There can be an explanation for the zombies or it can be left mysterious. Whatever it is, zombie stories usually have a fairly similar premise.

But, why is this so appealing? Well, it is a type of instant no-nonsense drama. It is a familiar type of story that the audience can jump into without a long introduction, it is a challenge to writers to put an exciting new twist on a well-known formula and it is a type of story that comes with built-in suspense.

The best metaphor for all of this is probably either a Shakespeare play or a piece of classical music. In short, every performance of it will contain the same basic elements – yet the real creativity and fascination comes from how different people interpret the same thing. It comes from seeing what someone has done with something familiar.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Tips For Making Your Zombie Story Stand Out From The Crowd

The day before I wrote this article, I started reading a zombie novel called “Dead of Night” by Jonathan Maberry. The really interesting thing about it is that it has so much more personality than another Maberry novel I’d read a week or two earlier called “Patient Zero“.

Whilst both novels feature zombies and ex-military protagonists (Joe Ledger and Desdemona Fox), one is a fairly standard military action-thriller novel with zombies in it and the other is this utterly glorious and unique low-budget grindhouse film of a novel 🙂

So, naturally, this made me think about ways to make zombie stories really stand out from the crowd.

1) Characters and/or settings: A really good zombie story often tends to be just as much (or more) about characters and settings than about shambling hordes of the undead.

The best zombie stories will often have an intriguingly unusual setting and an assortment of eccentric or unusual characters. Not only does this set the story apart from the crowd, but it also provides something other than zombies to hold the reader’s interest too. In addition to this, it evokes extra curiosity in the reader too.

An excellent example of this is probably Weston Ochse’s “Empire Of Salt“. This is a novel that is set in a run-down 1950s/60s-style resort town in the US. The sea beside the town has turned stagnant and the only people left in the town are a fairly eccentric group of people who either like the town enough to stay and/or who can’t afford to move. As such, this novel is incredibly atmospheric and fascinating even before the zombies really show up.

Likewise, another zombie novel called “Double Dead” by Chuck Wendig is fairly notable/memorable for the simple reason that the main character is a vampire who is accidentally awoken from a blood-deprived coma by the events of a zombie apocalypse. Although the novel contains fairly standard post-apocalyptic settings, the interesting choice of protagonist really helps to keep this novel notable and memorable.

Then there’s Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” – although this is technically a vampire novel (it contains “vampires” who act and look like zombies), it’s a really notable zombie story for the simple reason that it’s set in a rural part of 1980s Britain. Given how the zombie genre often tends to focus on the US, seeing an older version of rural Britain in a zombie story really makes this novel stand out 🙂

Then there are novels like Alison Littlewood’s “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” (which is set in Mexico) or Toby Venables’ “Viking Dead” (which is set in Viking-era Scandinavia). All of these novels are about a million miles away from the standard American cities, shopping centres etc… typically found in the zombie genre.

So, yes, intriguing characters and/or settings are one of the best ways to make your zombie story really stand out from the crowd.

2) Narration: One of the major things that helps a zombie novel to stand out from the crowd is the narration.

In other words, you need to make sure that your zombie story has a unique and interesting narrative voice. Whether your story is using first or third person narration, your story needs to have the kind of narration that your reader will want to read for the fun of it rather than just as a functional way to learn what happens next.

A good contrasting example of this can be found in the two Jonathan Maberry novels I mentioned earlier. In “Patient Zero”, most of the narration is fairly standard modern thriller novel narration – it’s fast-paced and it’s very readable, but it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd that much. It isn’t that different from what you’d see in a modern Lee Child, Clive Cussler, Dan Brown etc.. novel.

On the other hand, Maberry’s “Dead Of Night” has a much more unique style of narration – which often playfully combines more formal descriptions and the kind of informal, irreverent and comedic narration that makes you feel a little bit rebellious when you read it. This gives the story the atmosphere of a more high-brow novel, whilst also giving it the “edgy” personality of something like a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez film 🙂

Although “Patient Zero” possibly contains more large-scale drama than “Dead Of Night”, “Dead Of Night” is a lot more fun to read for the simple reason that the narration is a lot more interesting and unique. So, yes, unique narration matters a lot when it comes to making your zombie story stand out from the crowd.

3) The zombies matter less than you might think: Yes, you should be creative with the zombies in your story. But, the zombies themselves matter a lot less than you might think. Likewise, the reasons for your story’s zombie apocalypse don’t matter that much either.

What matters most is how the zombies are presented. Do they symbolise something? Are they there to add suspense? Are they just cannon fodder for action heroes? Are they lurking in the shadows or charging through the streets? Are they powerful? Are they weak?

Zombies are zombies. The stories that really stand out will get around this limitation by presenting the zombies in an interesting way. For example, in Weston Ochse’s “Empire Of Salt”, the zombies are a hidden threat that constantly lurks out of sight in the shadows. They’re Lovecraftian monsters of the deep. They’re 1950s-style horror comic monsters….

I could go on but, although they’re basically just the same undead monsters that we all know and love, they’re a lot more interesting and distinctive than usual for the simple reason that they are presented to the reader in a different way than usual.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Resident Evil: Extinction” (Film)

Well, after reviewing the first and second “Resident Evil” films, I thought that I’d check out the third one – “Resident Evil: Extinction”. However, I’m still not sure how many of these films I’ll review (hopefully, I’ll review the fourth one sometime, but I’m not exactly sure when).

Although I remember reading the novelisation of “Resident Evil: Extinction” when I was about twenty, I can’t remember if I’ve seen the film before. I’m pretty sure that I have, but I can’t be 100% certain, so it seemed like it would be worth taking a look at.

As usual, this review will contain SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS/IMAGES, although I don’t know if they’re intense or sustained enough to cause issues. Plus, this film is best enjoyed after you’ve seen the previous two films too.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Extinction”:

And, yes, I know that there are six films (although this probably explains why this second-hand DVD boxset was so cheap).

“Resident Evil: Extinction” is a sci-fi/horror/action film from 2007. It begins with what appears to be a recap of the events of the first two “Resident Evil” films.

We see Alice awaken in the shower with no memory and begin to explore the mansion. But then she finds herself inside the laser tunnel below the mansion and it quickly becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right. After dodging the lasers and crawling through an air vent, she finds herself inside Racoon City Hospital.

So, this isn’t re-used footage from the previous film!

However, the hospital seems to be filled with random deathtraps. And, after dodging a guillotine blade, Alice is machine-gunned to death by some kind of futuristic landmine. As she dies, several scientists appear and carry her body away.

Well, that was a short film! What? There’s more…

They carry her body out of the building into a desert and throw it on a pile of identical cloned bodies. The camera then zooms out to reveal that all of this has happened inside a desert research facility that is surrounded by hordes of zombies.

A simple fence is enough to keep the zombies out?!?!? They’re strong enough to tear metal grilles off of windows later in the film.

The film then cuts to a voice-over which explains that, several months after the events of the second film, the world succumbed to the zombie virus and has been reduced to a harsh wasteland filled with nothing but survivors, the undead and the remnants of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation.

Meanwhile, the real Alice is exploring the Utah desert in search of survivors, whilst the other survivors from the first film have joined an armoured convoy in Nevada – led by Claire Redfield (Finally! It’s about time she showed up in these films!).

Better late than never, I guess.

Whilst all of this is going on, Dr. Isaacs is talking with Albert Wesker (again, Finally!). Wesker is now the head of the Umbrella Corporation and he allows Isaacs to continue his research into finding a partial cure for the zombie virus, so that the zombies can be used for forced labour. But because Isaacs’ cloning program hasn’t worked out well, he wants to track down the original Alice in order to use the antibodies in her blood…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it combines the best elements of the first and second films. Thanks to the good mixture of slower-paced suspenseful horror and thrilling fast-paced action, this is a fun, scary thriller film 🙂

In addition to this, the film’s post-apocalyptic desert setting really helps to make this film a rather distinctive entry in the franchise too.

Yay! Post-apocalyptic wasteland!

The horror elements of this film work surprisingly well. In addition to the usual zombie-based horror and some more suspenseful scenes, this film also includes things like a genuinely creepy scene involving a group of deranged survivors, a few well-placed jump scares and a cool little homage to George A. Romero’s “Day Of The Dead” (when some scientists attempt to train a zombie). There’s also a greater emphasis on gory horror too, with this film being somewhat more gruesome than the previous two films.

Yay! It’s a homage to “Day Of The Dead” 🙂

The thriller elements of this film work really well, with the survivors often having to fight or evade both groups of zombies and infected crows too. There are also enhanced zombies and a large monster too.

Like in the previous film in the series, the action scenes are all really well-choreographed. However, this film also tones down the “silliness” of the action scenes very slightly- with the combat seeming very slightly more suspenseful and realistic. Plus, since these action scenes occur less often than in the previous film, they are often more thrilling (since they’re contrasted with slower-paced scenes).

Unlike in “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”, the whole film doesn’t consist of scenes like this.

But there’s still the occasional enjoyably silly moment too.

One thing that really helps is that there’s more character-based drama. Although you shouldn’t expect massive amounts of characterisation, the film focuses more on the lives of the survivors as they try to find more fuel, stay alive and work out where they can hide from the zombies.

Likewise, the film’s villains also receive a certain amount of characterisation too, with the charmingly sociopathic Dr. Isaacs being an absolutely brilliant villain. Wesker, on the other hand, really doesn’t get enough screen time or characterisation.

Seriously, Wesker only appear in about three scenes. Three!

Carlos and LJ seem less like the cartoon characters they were in “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” and more like tough, but realistic, characters. Although Claire Redfield is nothing like the videogame character she’s based on – she comes across as a reasonably realistic and well-written/acted character, who reminded me a little bit of Sarah Connor from “Terminator 2”.

Yes, this isn’t even vaguely accurate to the games. But, this scene is still pretty cool nonetheless.

Likewise, Alice is still the same badass action heroine that we all know and love. However, her psychic powers have increased slightly since the ending of the second film, which have led to her being somewhat of a loner since she fears what they might do to those close to her.

The film’s supporting characters also include a few other interesting characters, such as a teenage girl called “K-Mart” who is Claire’s protege, a character called Betty who seems to be LJ’s girlfriend and a cowboy-like guy who, for some bizarre reason, has a British army rifle (that he uses as a sniper rifle).

Seriously, how does he even have this gun?

These supporting characters help to ensure that the film isn’t just about a few main characters – which helps to add some suspense and depth to the story. The fact that the survivors also have to protect a group of kids too helps to add some suspense to the film.

In terms of the film’s special effects, set design and lighting – they’re really good. The film uses a combination of practical and CGI effects, both of which seem to work reasonably well. Likewise, the film’s bleakly bright desert settings are contrasted wonderfully with some rather gloomy chiaroscuro lighting too. The film’s desert setting also allow it to include lots of intriguingly creepy abandoned buildings too, which helps to add some atmosphere.

Such as this creepy abandoned radio station.

Or this ominously disused petrol station.

In terms of the music, the film is reasonably good – with the highlight being a piece of music (that sounds eerily futuristic and distinctively “Resident Evil”) that repeats during several establishing shots. Likewise, when the survivors’ convoy is first introduced, the scene is set to Iron Butterfly’s “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida”. Somehow, this piece of 1960s music works really well in context, and sounds suitably epic.

Although “Convoy” by C. W. McCall would have been hilarious in this scene!

All in all, this film is a brilliant mixture of the suspenseful horror of “Resident Evil” and the thrilling action of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”. It is ninety minutes of pure post-apocalyptic sci-fi/horror fun. And it is probably the best film in the series that I’ve seen so far.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get somewhere between four and four-and-a-half.

Review: “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d take another look at a film that I really enjoyed when I was a teenager. I am, of course, talking about a film from 2004 called “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”.

Back then, I’d really been looking forward to this film because, although the previous “Resident Evil” film was different to what I’d expected, this sequel looked like it would be more faithful to the source material. Needless to say, I ended up seeing it at the cinema and it really knocked my socks off 🙂 So much so that I actually ended up getting it on DVD a year or two later.

But, now that I’m somewhat older, I began to wonder if the film was as good as I remembered. So, I thought that I’d take another look at it.

Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS/IMAGES (but I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to cause problems).

“Resident Evil: Apocalypse” is a sci-fi/action/horror movie that is both a sequel to 2002’s “Resident Evil” and a partial adaptation of an amazing 1990s videogame called “Resident Evil 3: Nemesis“. Although it can be watched as a stand-alone film (since it contains a recap at the beginning), it is best watched after seeing/playing the two things I mentioned earlier.

The events of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” are set into motion when a team of scientists from the nefarious Umbrella Corporation make the questionable decision to re-open the sealed underground bunker from the first film. Needless to say, a horde of zombies pour out and – within hours – Racoon City is in the middle of a full-blown zombie apocalypse.

Hmm… It’s probably because the science team’s budget was spent on silly wrist-mounted computers rather than on some kind of rudimentary zombie-proof barrier.

After evacuating some of their key scientists, Umbrella decides to seal off the town. Unfortunately for the zombies, elite police officer Jill Valentine is stranded inside the town with a reporter and another elite officer called Peyton.

The zombies really don’t stand a chance…

Meanwhile, some of Umbrella’s elite private troops, led by the rugged Carlos Olivera, realise that the company has deserted them. Whilst all of this is going on, the automated systems in the city hospital release Alice (from the first film) from stasis.

Cue a vaguely “28 Days Later” – like scene (that re-uses some footage from the previous film)

And, if that wasn’t enough, one of the evacuated scientists realises that his daughter has been stranded inside the city. Hacking into the city’s CCTV and phone network, he contacts the survivors and offers them a deal. He’ll guide them out of the city, if they rescue his daughter….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is best watched when you are a teenager. It is pretty much the textbook definition of a silly, cheesy “so bad that it’s good” action movie. But, even so, what a silly film this is!

Fun fact: This melodramatic explosion comes from an airbourne motorbike that has been machine-gunned after a monster has climbed onto it in mid-air.

Everything from the brilliantly cheesy dialogue to the ludicrous action sequences to the ridiculously rapid-fire editing is totally and utterly silly. Yet, it still works! Although there’s a bit of suspense, characterisation and backstory – most of the film just consists of the characters fighting zombies and monsters in a variety of creatively melodramatic ways.

And, yes, this is one of the more boring combat scenes in the film!

Occasionally, the film shakes things up by having the characters fight evil henchmen too.

And, yet, this works! Although the film tries to have a few serious dramatic moments, it really doesn’t take itself ultra-seriously. It’s a silly, mindless action movie that knows that it’s a silly, mindless action movie.

In other words, it’s pretty much a parody of the genre. All of the characters can shoot with pinpoint accuracy, there’s never a shortage of guns, the laws of physics are more like suggested guidelines, there’s at least one explosion every 10-20 minutes or so and there are plenty of “badass” one-liners too.

This film is gloriously immature and doesn’t have an original bone in it’s body. But, this doesn’t matter, because it is fun.

Like this melodramatic headline. Somehow, despite a full-blown zombie apocalypse, the local newspaper still has time to print an extra edition..

Or this “totally not influenced by ‘The Matrix’ ” choice of weapons. And the “I can’t believe it isn’t ‘The Matrix’ ” slow-motion bullet scene in another part of the film. But, well, wouldn’t “The Matrix” be cooler if there were zombies?

In many ways, this film is both similar to and different from the action movies of the 1990s. Whilst it includes more of a 1990s-style focus on team-based storytelling, the team in question contains several cynical, near-immortal, individualistic warriors.

Likewise, whilst the film contains the kind of highly-unrealistic premise that would have been more at home during the more innocent days of the 1990s, the emotional tone of the film is more in keeping with the “serious” mood of the early-mid 2000s.

Yes, it’s a team-based action movie with an unrealistic premise. But it has a gloomier 2000s-style emotional tone and more 2000s-style characters.

Interestingly, this film both is and isn’t faithful to the story of “Resident Evil 3: Nemesis”. Yes, the Nemesis appears – but he has a different origin story (and a slightly different personality). Jill and Carlos also both look a bit like their videogame counterparts, but their personalities are a lot more aggressive and “badass” when compared to the game. There’s also a sequence that has been almost directly lifted from the intro movie from “Resident Evil: Code Veronica” (but with Alice instead of Claire Redfield) too.

Yay! It’s a homage to the real Resident Evil 4 🙂

If anything, this film is more of a sequel to the first “Resident Evil” film than an adaptation of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames. But, unlike the first film, it’s a ridiculously fast-paced “badass” sci-fi action movie rather than a slow-paced, atmospheric and suspenseful horror story.

There’s no need for carefully conserving ammunition, puzzle-solving or methodical exploration here!

Surprisingly, for a film based on a well-known zombie horror franchise, there’s relatively little in the way of gore. Whilst the film certainly isn’t bloodless, there’s more of a focus on fast-paced action than on grisly horror.

Even so, there are still a few grotesque moments here, such as a classroom of zombie children, a decaying skull or a character who has kept one of their zombified relatives alive. But, these are almost the exception rather than the rule.

For example, a classic zombie-movie style scene where a character is devoured by a horde of the undead is almost completely bloodless.

In terms of the characters, Jill and Carlos are just generic “badass” characters a lot of the time. Alice actually gets a bit of characterisation but, for the most part, she’s another “badass” character. The film’s various supporting characters also help to add a bit of individuality, drama, humour and/or suspense to the film too.

In terms of lighting, special effects and set design, this film still stands up reasonably well to this day. Yes, there’s some mildly dated CGI effects in a few of the monster-based scenes. But, many of the effects are timeless practical effects. The pyrotechnics and fight choreography are also really good too. Plus, the Nemesis looks suitably formidable too.

Or, more accurately, he looks a little bit like something from an Iron Maiden album cover. Which is also awesome 🙂

CGI effects aside, the only thing that will really tip you off that this is a film from 14 years ago is the fact that the characters use payphones more often than mobile phones.

Plus, since this is a film in the horror genre, the lighting looks absolutely brilliant too. Likewise, the set design is a videogame-like mixture of realistic and futuristic locations too.

The best lighting in the film has to be the 1980s-style neon lighting here.

The film also makes extensive use of blue/orange lighting too.

However, in terms of editing, this film often uses a ridiculously fast-paced editing style (especially near the beginning), which makes everything seem a little bit trite and abrupt at times. Still, at a lean 90 minutes (approx) in length, this film never gets dull, bloated or boring.

In terms of music, whilst the music in the film wasn’t that memorable, one interesting fact is that the music credits at the end of the film list Cradle Of Filth’s “Nymphetamine” as part of the soundtrack. Although this song is absolutely brilliant, I can’t remember actually hearing it during the film. But, since Cradle’s “Nymphetamine” album came out the same year that the film did (and the soundtrack is apparently from Roadrunner Records), it’s possible that they just added it to the CD soundtrack to promote the album.

It’s cool that “Nymphetamine” is in the credits, but I don’t remember hearing it during the film though 😦

All in all, this is a gloriously silly and wonderfully mindless “so bad that it’s good” action movie that is a lot of fun to watch.

It’s a film sequel that is also an adaptation of a videogame sequel. So, yes, you’ll enjoy this film the most if you are aged between about thirteen and seventeen. But, even if you’re re-watching it as a slightly more cynical and (somehow) more mature adult, then there’s still lots of fun to be had here. If you go into it expecting ninety minutes of thoroughly silly fun, then you won’t be disappointed.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least three and a half.

Today’s Art (6th January 2017)

Well, it’s a new year and it’s time for a new webcomic mini series! As such, I’m very proud to present the sixth comic in “Damania Resolute” 🙂 If you want to see the previous zombie apocalypse, then look here. If you want to see more comics featuring these characters, lots of them can be found on this page.

I’d thought about making a comic similar to my comic about Christmas shopping but then I realised that it had been way too long since the zombies had last appeared.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Resolute - Yet Again" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resolute – Yet Again” By C. A. Brown

“Larkminster Library” By C. A. Brown (Short Story #3 – Halloween 2016)

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT/UTC

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT/UTC

Larkminster was a town that looked like it had been preserved in gelatin sometime during the fifties. Only the flaking paint on the shop signs and the ash-ringed “no smoking” sign on the pub’s gnarled door showed the passage of time. Other than that, a thousand time travellers could visit this town and never be shocked or surprised.

And travellers are often the only people to see the town. Most of them don’t stop. I did. Not entirely by choice.

Luckily, the town had a petrol station- although you still actually had to ask for unleaded. Since I wasn’t expected in Shrewsbury for another four hours, I felt like exploring.

If there’s one thing to be said for the town, the parking is still free. The pay and display meter had yet to reach these distant parts and, no doubt, the last parking warden who set foot here ended up getting a practical demonstration of the town’s historic gibbet. A gibbet which, according to it’s faded sign, had been occupied by none other than five sheep rustlers, a fugitive pirate and one of Cromwell’s generals.

The less said about the pub, the better. Despite the bright sun outside, it may as well have been midnight inside. Not only did The Huntsman’s Bugle not serve food, but exotic imports like wine and lager had yet to grace it’s cellars too.

In fact, the only interesting place in town was the library. It was tucked away in a plain, brick building beside the church. Given that this place barely had landlines, let alone the internet, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the library was so large. Yet, the only sign of human life was a silent librarian – her face hidden behind a large leather ledger.

Finding a dusty book about impressionist art, I sat down in the corner and started reading. If there’s one good thing to be said for old libraries, it’s that they haven’t got those cheap plastic chairs that modern libraries sometimes use to make sure that people don’t stay for too long.

Fifty pages later, the door creaked and I heard slow, unsteady footsteps. It was probably just one of the library’s regulars. Probably an old codger who came here every day to read the same almanac again and again. I returned to my book.

Once I’d reached a chapter entitled “The vile debauchery of Edgar Degas“, the footsteps began again – this time from behind a nearby shelf.

Oh crap, I thought, I hope I’m not sitting in the old guy’s chair! It smelled of must, pipe smoke and soap. Not wanting to profane the sacred relic, I got up and went to put the book back. It was then that I saw him.

He had to be at least two hundred. Far from being wrinkled, the grey skin of his face was pulled taut in a cheerful rictus. His thin hair had obviously got tired of being grey and had turned sepia many moons ago. In the withered fingers of his left hand, he held a nameless hardback book.

All I could think to say was “sorry”. The man said nothing. It was a library, after all.

Gingerly, I stepped past him and began to walk towards the exit. That was when I saw the second one. She was poking at one of the shelves with a bony finger. It looked like she was squinting to read the spine of the book, but I quickly noticed that her eyes were nothing more than dry, hollow sockets.

I kept moving…. and almost tripped over another one. He didn’t grumble. He didn’t even stop to pick up his foot. He just kept shuffling towards the gardening section. I made a beeline for the exit.

As I reached for the door, I heard a quiet tutting sound. The librarian lowered the ledger and, with the one remaining finger of her skeletal hand, pointed to a sign that said “No running!“. I mumbled an apology, before throwing the door open.

To this day, I still can’t understand it. Perhaps I fell asleep in the library and had a nightmare? Perhaps spending an eternity in the nearby graveyard was too dull for the dead? Perhaps a library in a small town is the only place where the dead can walk without getting hassled? Who knows?

But, when you see a picturesque town flash by the car window. Don’t stop! Keep driving, because who knows what could lurk behind the beautiful scenery.